Ah, Scribblenauts. One of the games we bought the ill-fated Wii U for, only to find the original game delayed by a year, and then the Batman-themed sequel, Scribblenauts Unmasked, unceremoniously cancelled (in the UK and Europe, at least). The reason why is still very much a mystery, and with a heavy heart, we'd long since given up on ever playing the super hero inspired adventure - until the sudden and surprise announcement of the Scribblenauts Mega Pack, a bumper compendium of both Wii U Scribblenauts titles, remade for the Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Marking the first time the DC inspired edition had reached these shores, we dusted off our imaginations, and readied our vocabularies, as we dove back into our much-loved word 'em up once more.
If you're new to the Scribblenauts party, here's a quick primer first. The games tell the story of a young boy named Maxwell and his magical notebook, which lets him summon almost anything he can think of just by writing in it. As you can imagine, that's an ability which comes in pretty handy when it comes to solving all manner of problems. Cat stuck up a tree? Summon a ladder to climb up and fetch him down. Or a trampoline to leap up there and grab him. Or a rather hungry beaver, who'll munch his way through the tree, saving the cat in the process. Really, the only real limit here is your imagination - or, in the case of our sister, who famously ended up with a canyon rather than a canon, your spelling ability.
When Maxwell's sister Lily gets cursed by a wandering hobo wizard, it falls to Maxwell to help save the day, using his magical notebook to do good deeds across the land and collect Starites as he goes - a crystallised form of happiness that is the key to lifting the spell. Serving as a convenient excuse to send Maxwell off on a jaunt far and wide, you'll need to complete all kinds of puzzles with the help of your trusty notebook, earning Starites as you go.
Unlike the earlier DS Scribblenauts entries, Scribblenauts Unlimited gives you larger, more open levels to explore, with a number of more minor missions scattered around that reward you with smaller 'Starite fragments' rather than a whole one. These could be as simple as summoning something in a team colour to motivate one of the contestants in a wheelchair race or giving a stork a baby to carry (a baby anything by the way - human baby, baby deer, baby shark). Each level also has one or two larger Starites to collect, which are usually much more involved. In the hospital, for example, an ambulance arrives, bringing a range of sick patients in for Dr. Maxwell to treat. These include a sick cat, a pair of teeth and a broken robot to name but a few, and it's up to you to summon something to make them better again - we chose some medicinal cat food, a toothbrush and a mad scientist, respectively.
While it does depend a little on the task at hand, there's still plenty of scope for mischief in Scribblenauts Unlimited. Like Super Scribblenauts that came before it, Scribblenauts Unlimited lets you add a whole host of adjectives to the objects you summon to give them additional effects, and you can generally stack as many as you want - just make sure you spell them right, as we accidentally ended up with a 'hunky beaver' rather than a 'hungry beaver', which wasn't quite as useful for cutting down a tree. There's plenty of other ways to use these adjectives to have fun, though. For example, in the first town you visit, a grandfather would like to "sail across the sea" - unfortunately, the Titanic doesn't exist in the game's dictionary, so we had to make do with a 'broken rideable cruise liner' instead, which he promptly hopped on and sailed away into the sunset, so obviously it wasn't that broken after all. Another guy was bored out of his skull, and asked Maxwell to entertain him, which saw us summon a 'musical fire-breathing funny acrobat' riding a unicycle, covering all our bases in one go.
The real highlight of the package though, at least for us, is Scribblenauts Unmasked - a DC super heroes-themed take on the standard Scribblenauts formula. in this game, series protagonist Maxwell and his sister Lily, both avid fans of the DC comic books, have been arguing about which super hero is the best - so to settle things once and for all, they decide to pay them all a visit, using Lily's magical teleporting globe. As you do. However, a nasty crash landing knocks all the Starites out of the teleporter, meaning they can't return home until Maxwell has rounded them all up again. To add insult to injury, it turns out Maxwell's got himself a mysterious doppelganger, who's been running around causing chaos, allying himself with the Joker, Lex Luthor and co too, spelling disaster for the DC universe to boot.
However, despite the story-based set up, the gameplay here is pretty similar to Scribblenauts Unlimited, as Maxwell sets out on a quest to solve word-based puzzles, and collect some Starites with the help of Batman, Superman and the Green Lantern (to name but a few). As an honorary super hero, Maxwell also has a reputation to build up, by completing missions in each of the three main locales, Gotham City, Metropolis and Oa (aka Green Lantern Land). For every 'good deed' you complete, you'll earn a certain number of points for your reputation each area - but it's worth being as inventive as you can, as reusing words, or using certain prohibited words (like indestructible - presumably because it makes challenges too easy) will both dock you points. These reputation points function essentially as three different currencies for unlocking new levels and costumes for Maxwell, so it's well worth trying to be as creative as you can.
The missions in Unmasked are still very much the same sort of thing, though, despite the super hero garb. Whether it's adding an adjective to make an electrified Batsy during a fight with Deadshot to help give him the upper hand; hypnotising a criminal to get him to follow you to a helicopter; or taking down the doppelganger's Robosaur with an exploding baby, it's the usual mixture of simple, quick-fire missions you can solve in whatever way you see fit, albeit with a bit of a crime-fighting, super hero bent. One mission saw us running into none other than King Arthur, who'd been teleported to the Green Lantern's 2084, and was missing all his old chums. As such, he wanted Maxwell to conjure up a pal. First we tried 'friar', inspired by Robin Hood's Friar Tuck, but got no reaction. Next up, we tried a 'friendly dragon', which friar not-tuck decided to leap on and fly away, scaring poor old King Arthur in the process. Finally, we tried a 'maid', wondering if he was perhaps after that sort of companionship instead - and, while King Arthur was pleased at the development, he was less pleased when the girl conjured up a castle which promptly got attacked by a not-so-friendly dragon and burned to the ground, along with Maxwell and the knight he'd called in to deal with the giant reptile problem.
Scribblenauts Mega Pack
Looking at the Scribblenauts Mega Pack as a whole, the only real problem here is that the controls can be a bit clunky and unintuitive to begin with - at least until you've got used to them. Entering words is done via the same input scheme as the fast-paced, multiplayer-centric Scribblenauts Showdown (for more on that, be sure to check out our full review), in that letters are arranged around a wheel, in groups of four, corresponding to each of the controller's four face buttons - X, Square, Circle and Triangle. Ironically, it's impossible to describe using words alone, so here - have a picture instead:
All you have to do is point your analogue stick at the right group and press the corresponding button to get the letter you want. As it's a bit of an unusual layout, it does take a bit of getting the hang of, but you'll soon find it's fairly quick, if a little too easy to get the wrong group of letters if you don't keep the analogue stick in just the right place.
Likewise, it's all too obvious that Scribblenauts was originally designed for a touch screen, as selecting objects, either to pick them up, ride them or otherwise interact with them is a bit slow and awkward. Picking things up is a fairly simple press of the Square button, but if you want to do anything else, you'll need to press Circle, then potentially scrolling through a number of nearby items with L1 and R1, before scrolling down to 'add adjective', 'interact' or 'ride on' (if whatever you're trying to interact with hasn't run off, or caught fire in the meantime). It's more of an issue in Scribblenauts Unmasked, where, although listed in the options as the pick up button, Square only ever seems to punch the object instead, often destroying it in the process, meaning you'll mostly have to flick through all the same menus instead, which can be a bit much when you're in the middle of a somewhat hectic fight.
Really though, Scribblenauts is one of those games where you get out as much as you put in - sure, you could just blast through all the puzzles with the most basic of solutions, rarely getting more creative than a rope and some glue, but then you'd also miss out on a lot of the fun too. It's much more entertaining to come up with the wildest scenarios you can and try and make them work, or watch the mayhem unfold as the unexpected happens.
As you're effectively getting two games for the price of one here, the Scribblenauts Mega Pack is great value for money too, cramming a whole lot of creative fun into one package. We're particularly stoked about finally getting to play Unmasked, which never made it out over here, and for that alone we'd recommend this to any Scribblenauts fans. The controls may leave a bit to be desired, but once you get the hang of them, you'll be summoning your way through puzzles faster than you can write 'bouncy indestructible carnivorous ice-breathing rainbow flaming flying rideable giant hunky octopus'.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4